Sunday, May 3, 2009

Governments Declare Maternal Mortality a Human Rights Violation

In March this year, 83 Governments issued a joint statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Expressing concern over the unacceptably high number of women who die each year due to pregnancy related complications, the delegation urged the Human Rights Council to declare maternal mortality a human rights violation.

Each year more than 500,000 women die from pregnancy or childbirth. Most of these deaths could be prevented, and by not doing so, such inaction clearly constitutes a human rights violation. A women's right to health, life, education, dignity, access to information and appropriate healthcare are violated each and every time a preventable death occurs, and this is completely unacceptable. Reaffirming the importance of The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Millennium Development Goal 5, The Beijing Declaration and The International Conference on Population and Development, the delegation demanded a recommitment to such global obligations.

MDG 5 aims to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters, however, between 1990 and 2005 the global rate decreased by less than 1%. Governments and international organizations must recommit themselves to decreasing maternal mortality by 5.5% annually in order to meet set targets. Maternal mortality is an issue that affects women worldwide, and must not be looked at as a concentrated regional problem, but rather a sector of health in which continuous improvement is required.

The delegation laid out 4 keys actions that the Human Rights Council should undertake to contribute to existing efforts. Identifying the human rights dimensions of preventable maternal mortality and morbidity, reviewing and considering information on discrimination in the provision of and access to healthcare for women and discrimination against women in respect of their right to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children, talking about the human rights implications of maternal mortality and morbidity in the universal periodic review and in treaty body dialogues, including the exchange of programmes and policies that have successfully reversed the trend of maternal deaths and injuries, and finally, requesting states to include women in decision-making about maternal health, including decisions on the design of local health care mechanisms, and to recognize women’s right to skilled professional care before, during and after pregnancy and childbirth. Goal 3 highlights the importance of South-South cooperation and sharing of good practices as an excellent tool of progression.

The Council will meet next in June of this year and it is PPD's hope that the suggestions provided by one of the largest joint-intergovernmental statements delivered to the Council will have taken effect, and that maternal mortality will be declared a human rights violation. Urgent action is needed in order to meet Millennium Development Goal 5 and to prevent thousands of unnecessary deaths, and the Human Rights Council has the ability to spur such action.

You can view the entire joint statement issued to the Human Rights Council at

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